Mass. Appeal

According to a recent study, Boston is the most expensive metropolitan area in the U.S. That is both a bane and a boon to local broadcasters.

The region is growing quickly, creating new audiences and a fresh supply of advertisers. “This is one of the biggest boom markets in the country,” says Bill Fine, new president/general manager for ABC affiliate WCVB.

But recent corporate shake-ups—locally based Gillette, Filene's and Fleet Bank have all been acquired by competitors—threaten to disrupt the boom. Station managers say residents, fearing layoffs, may curtail spending. Both automotive and telecommunications advertising are down.

The economy is bolstered by tourism, biotech and education; more than 75 colleges and universities dot the fifth-largest TV market, which also encompasses Manchester, N.H. In 2004, local broadcasters collected $574.8 million, up from $559.8 million in '03. And the outlook for next year is bright, with governors' races in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and issue money coming in for ballot initiatives.

Boston was the first market to convert to Nielsen's local-people-meter ratings system, in 2002. But Nielsen does not currently report ratings for out-of-home viewing, second residences or dorms, meaning many college kids aren't measured. “Their spending power is unbelievable,” says Tricia Maloney, director of programming and research for Fox station WFXT. “We know we are reaching them in the dorms and their apartments.”

In news, WCVB leads in early mornings and evenings; station star Natalie Jacobson anchors at 6 p.m. WCVB competes for the top spot with NBC affiliate WHDH at 11 p.m. To gain an edge in early mornings, WFXT recently added a fourth hour of news at 5 a.m. WCVB has its team doing double shifts: Heather Unruh also co-hosts the 5 p.m. news, and Ed Harding is on at 11 p.m.

The Big Three local affiliates all weathered recent executive changes. Fine joined WCVB last summer to replace retiring chief Paul La Camera. Julio Marenghi joined CBS affiliate WBZ last year as president/general manager; he recruited Station Manager Angie Kucharski and named Jennifer Street interim news director in July. And last month, Linda Miele, who joined WHDH 13 years ago as an intern, was tapped to succeed Ed Kosowski as news director.

As people look beyond the “Hub” (as Boston is referred to) for housing, newsrooms are shifting their focus outside the city as well. Last summer, WBZ opened a bureau in Worcester, an hour's drive west of Boston. “The market is growing to the east, north and west,” says Marenghi. “It isn't as Boston-centric anymore.”